Early menopause is a term used to
describe the early failure of ovarian function. Since most women begin menopause
in their late 40s to early 50s, the difference with early menopause is that the
change of life begins in the 20s, 30s, or early 40s. Now, it is important to
understand the clinical terminology since it has very different meanings:
· Early Menopause – The complete stop of menstrual cycle for a full 12 months
prior to the age of 45
· Premature Menopause – Menopause occurring before age 40 occurring naturally
(not caused by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation
· Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) – Dysfunction of ovaries whereby they are no
longer working as they should, shutting down years, if not decades ahead of time
With normal menopause, a woman will stop having her monthly cycle. With this,
the ovaries no longer have eggs, the ovaries are no longer responding to the
body’s hormone signals, or the ovaries have been surgically removed or damaged.
Prior to the cycle stopping, the woman will go through a normal transition
period known as “perimenopause.” This phase of the process can last anywhere
from two to six years. Once the menstrual cycle stops, the women is considered
In most cases, a woman will finish menopause around the age of 52, meaning the
average age space for this process is from 47 to 54. Therefore, if for any
reason a woman goes through menopause prior to this time, she is considered
premature or early menopause. Now, if menopause ahead of time is caused
by chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, then the body is going through the
changes for obvious reasons. However, if a person has perimenopause, they have
begun to go into menopause earlier than considered normal because again, hormone
levels are low and fluctuating but the ovaries are still functioning.
Depending on the symptoms and severity of the symptoms, if you have this type of
menopause, your gynecologist may recommend that you take low-dose hormone replacement therapy. The result is that the effects of having low estrogen
levels at an early age would be corrected until the appropriate time to start
into menopause. The key is to work with a qualified doctor who will work with
your body to get the life process back on track. If you are experiencing early
menopause, know you are not alone and that there are options available.
Again, if you’re experiencing any signs of menopause, see your doctor. If you’re
young, tests will be run to rule out more serious health issues prior to a
diagnosis of premature menopause. For many women, early menopause causes an
increase in some of the psychological symptoms of menopause – many women fret
about having their reproductive options taken away from them too soon, or feel
that menopause is indicative of aging – while these are natural emotional
responses, know that, other than your reproductive system, you’re still as young
and as sexually capable as you otherwise would be. Of course, if you’re having
severe emotional problems due to premature menopause, you should speak openly
with your physician.
In addition to surgery and cancer treatments, there are several causes of
early menopause. Some of the most common causes
· Autoimmune disorder: As many as 70% of women suffering from premature ovarian failure without surgery or cancer treatments have suffered from some autoimmune
disorder. In an autoimmune disorder, the body’s immune system inadvertently
attacks itself, sending its own antibodies to counter its mistaken intruder.
Some common autoimmune disorders leading to premature menopause include thyroid
disease, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis.
· Chromosome irregularity: This is a less common issue, and more difficult to
discern, but chromosome irregularity is caused by defects on one of our two X
chromosomes. In addition to defects on the X chromosome, diseases such as
Turner’s Syndrome, and the presence of three X chromosomes, can cause premature
menopause. Chromosomal problems are largely due to genetics.
· Tamoxifen: Tamoxifen was once a prescribed medication for breast cancer, and
is now prescribed to those women at a high risk of breast cancer. While its
effects on breast cancer have been largely successful, one side effect is that
it can increase your risk of prematurely achieving menopause. Take note that
while your body may achieve premature menopause, as Tamoxifen acts as an
estrogen inhibitor, sometimes this is a temporary effect, and women have
reported returning to normal ovarian production after they stop taking the drug.
· Family history: If the women in your direct lineage have gone through
early menopause , chances are you will as well.
Don’t be afraid to discuss menopause with members of your family who have
already gone through it – in addition to the mental and emotional support, you
can likely get a good understanding of when you can expect to be menopausal and
which symptoms will likely affect you the greatest.
· Viral infections: If your mother suffered a viral affection while she was
pregnant with you, it may have affected your ovarian development. Likewise, if
you’ve suffered from viral infections such as mumps, which could have spread to
your ovaries, it could interfere with your ovary function. In these cases, you
could either suffer from having fewer eggs than most women (leading to premature
menopause), or run out of eggs more quickly.
Other disorders, such as thyroid disease, pituitary disorders, and adrenal
disorders may result in similar symptoms to menopause, but you likely won’t be
considered menopausal. In addition, an extreme change in your weight, your
exercise routine, or your use of certain drugs can cause the cessation of your
period, without any other menopausal symptoms. This is usually temporary.
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